Hopedale Radar Site Clean-up


During the 1950s, the US Air Force (USAF) built a military radar station that was part of the Pole Vault line of defence, 1 km to the north of Hopedale, Labrador. The Hopedale station was operational from 1953 until 1968. When the site was no longer strategically required, it was abandoned and all infrastructure, equipment and materials were left in place. In the late 1960’s and 1970’s the site was used as a base for oil exploration activities. In 1985, the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador took responsibility for the site from the Department of National Defence. At that time, all structures associated with the decommissioned facility were demolished and today, concrete foundations are, for the most part, the only visible remnants of the military activities that had taken place at the site.

It was known that Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were a common contaminant used at these radar stations and were often found in the environment close to the station structures.

Concerns about possible contamination and health related issues by the community of Hopedale led to the first environmental investigation of the site by the Province in 1998. The full extent of PCB contamination was not found at that time. A number of environmental investigations took place in Hopedale between the period of 2004-2008 by the Environmental Sciences Group of the Royal Military College of Canada at the request of the Labrador Inuit Association (now the Nunatsiavut Government) and the Hopedale Inuit Community Government. All reports were presented to the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and it was clear that concentrations of PCBs above guidelines were present in a number of areas around the old military site. In 2007, the Province commissioned the consultants Aivek-Stantec Ltd. to conduct a full-scale environmental site investigation on their behalf. These studies confirmed the presence of PCBs in soils, sediments and biota in the Hopedale area. Metals and hydrocarbons in soil were also found to exceed environmental guidelines.


What is being done?

The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador awarded a $6 million contract over a three year period (2011-2013) to complete the clean-up of contaminated soil from the former military site in Hopedale.  A stakeholder group consisting of the Department of Environment and Conservation (ENVC) from the Province, the Nunatsiavut Government as well as their respective scientific advisors and the Hopedale Inuit Community Government was formed.

In addition to contaminants found on land, in 2011, high concentrations of PCBs were found in bottom dwelling fish and shellfish within the sheltered harbour at Hopedale.  Investigation of the extent of PCB contamination and the impact it may be having is on-going, but it appears that species with a close relationship with the sediment and a small home range, like mussels and clams, and bottom dwelling fish, are more influenced by local contamination. For example, higher PCBs have been found in bottomfish (rock cod and sculpin) and shellfish (clams and mussels) in Hopedale Harbour.

It is important to know that PCBs were not found, or were found in very low concentrations (called background concentrations) in bottomfish and shellfish in surrounding areas, like Tooktoosner Bay, Black Head Tickle and Uvidluk Cove. For this reason, harvesting these species from these areas is considered safe. Fish and marine animals that do not come into contact with sediment, like arctic char and salmon, are still safe to eat, even from within Hopedale Harbour.  This is based on similar studies done in Saglek, where the arctic char were always safe to eat, even those caught in areas where the sediments were highly contaminated.

A dietary study was conducted in Hopedale in 2011 to identify country foods and harvesting locations that are important to residents. These country foods were sampled and analyzed for PCBs and results of this work will be made available to the community in 2013. Further recommendation may be added if necessary based on the 2012 results. Financial support was provided to the Hopedale community freezer program to ensure that country foods in general remain accessible and a significant part of the diet of residents, given their importance for health.

Remediation of PCBs on the land around Hopedale is still ongoing. More studies are taking place to understand the PCB contamination in the harbour and what can be done about it.

The results of a human health risk assessment are expected in the summer of 2013.

It is important to remember that country foods are an important source of many nutrients including Omega 3 fatty acids and that getting enough country food to live a healthy and active lifestyle is essential. Although PCBs have been found in Hopedale Harbour sediments, PCBs have not been found in the sediments of surrounding areas (see map). Residents wishing to decrease their exposure to PCBs can do so by decreasing the amount of bottomfish and shellfish they harvest from Hopedale harbour and instead, harvest for bottomfish and shellfish from areas outside of Hopedale Harbour.

Stakeholder Group

  • The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador (Responsible for the cleanup of the site)
  • Department of Environment and Conservation
  • Department of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs
  • Department of Labrador and Grenfell Health
  • Nunatsiavut Government
  • Representatives from the Community of Hopedale
  • Consultant to the Province
  • Aivek-Stantec Ltd.
  • Nunatsiavut Scientific Advisers
  • Environmental Sciences Group (ESG)
  • Dr. Ken Reimer – Scientific advisor to NG on Hopedale contamination since 2004, Scientific adviser to DND for the DEW Line Radar Sites Clean-up
  • Nasivvik